An article appeared in Black Belt magazine back in 1968 featuring the father of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, who was 85-years-old at the time, and still practicing the martial art of Aikido, bringing down to the mat young men stronger than himself. The magazine tried to get some straight answers from the O-Sensei about the art of Aikido and his role in it.
At the time Morihei Ueshiba, affectionately called O-Sensei, had just received the crowning victory of his illustrious career as he had been the guest speaker to the opening of the brand new 3-story Aikido world headquarters building in Japan. The newspaper men of the time had become hardened to PT Barnum-like acts meant to amaze, but deceive. So, when they watched O-Sensei toss young men down, they started to look for the catch, the mirrors in the wings so to speak. They had not yet learned how O-Sensei was the real thing.
It certainly didn’t help their lack of belief when all their questions were answered in mysterious, yet humorous, ways. When O-Sensei was asked when he established Aikido, he answered, “The day I was born.” His son quickly answered the first dojo was set up in 1931.
When asked about the meaning of Aikido, O-Sensei replied, “It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.”
When asked how he pulls an opponent down, O-Sensei remarked, “If he’s going to pull you, then let him pull. Don’t pull against him; pull in unison with him.”
Apparently, Aikido is something that has to be experienced, and not something that can give pat answers. It’s a shame one of the newspapermen didn’t offer to go on the mat with O-Sensei. Not only would it prove that this was the real deal, but it would teach him a bit more respect for this elderly man. (Not that any were behaving disrespectfully.)
As for the new headquarters, who could not be impressed? For the 75 years prior to the opening of the new building, O-Sensei’s headquarters had been in a ramshackle 75-mat dojo. The new headquarters contains a 130-mat dojo with two smaller 40-mat rooms.
At the time there were some 300 practitioners worldwide, but as Aikido was still fairly new, those who had made high level grades and could qualify as instructors were few in number. Therefore, private classes were limited. The higher level classes contained at least 15 students at 5,000 yen ($14) per month. Remember that was 1968, when things cost considerably less than they do today. Compare the $14 per month to the general fee for beginners at $1 per month. Get the picture?
Ki was a part of regular instruction. An instructor would demonstrate one technique with one student, and the the other students would practice it with each other for about 5 minutes. Then another technique would be demonstrated, and so on.
To understand the rigors of becoming an instructor one needs to look at how to rise in the grades. A beginner starts at 5th grade and works up to first grade wearing a basic judo gi. Getting through the five grades takes one about a year and one-half to about two years. When the student gets promoted to shodan, he dons the black hakama skirt.
A battery of examinations were held the fourth Friday and Sunday of each month when students would try their best to attain at elevation to a higher degree within their grade. To assess them properly the students were grouped into categories of professionals (those who trained regularly) and amateurs (those who attended workshops regularly). Students had to demonstrate not only the physical side of Aikido, but the spiritual side.
28-year-old George Lee Willard of California had come to Japan to train in Aikido. Even with his black belt in karate, he found trying to learn how to win in Aikido a real challenge. He told reporters his goal was to one day take down O-Sensei. He knew he would need a quite a few years more of training to be able to succeed at that, and he believed that O-Sensei might actually live those many years, considering the great health of the 85-year-old man. Unfortunately for George and the world, Morihei Ueshiba would die the following year.
Morihei Ueshiba was a devoutly religious man. Many considered him equivalent to the highest priest in Japan. The spirit side of Aikido played an equal importance to the originator of the martial art. O-Sensei claimed that he did not derive Aikido from any other martial art, however, critics of the martial arts recognize that Aikido hip rotations are much like kendo, and other techniques very much like jujitsu. Yet, Morihei Ueshiba emphatically insisted the God inside of him emerged and created Aikido.
To properly adhere to the ki of Aikido one must be able to assimilate how physical movement is controlled by the mind. Ki enables one to sense danger coming, anticipate it, and overcome it. The ki produces a reaction so swift a camera can’t easily catch it. For this reason many believe that high a level of Aikido to be something of a developed sixth sense.
The high popularity and growing devotion to the physical and spiritual aspects that Aikido has since propagated is a testament to the practice and beliefs of its founding father.
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